taking action on climate change

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleWith more than 300,000 people turning out for the People’s Climate March in New York City and leaders from around the world meeting for the United Nations Climate Summit, climate change has been big news this week. It was also Climate Action Week at EPA, starting with Administrator Gina McCarthy’s message: Climate Week – It’s Time For Action.

As with so many other environmental challenges, the first steps toward taking meaningful action all start with science. Research lays the foundation for understanding our impact on the environment, and finding sustainable solutions for adapting to, and reducing the impact from, a changing climate.

This week’s Research Recap highlights some of the work that EPA researchers have done to support climate action.

  • Preparing to “Move:” EPA Research Supports Taking Action on Climate Change
    EPA researcher Dr. Andy Miller is among the many people studying how climate change is affecting our environment. EPA scientists work behind the scenes to provide the knowledge people need to prepare for climate change and its impacts, so communities will have the best information possible to take action as they prepare their move into the future. Read more.
  • EPA Science Matters – Climate Change Research Edition
    EPA’s Science Matters newsletter features a collection of stories on how EPA researchers and their partners are supporting both the Agency and President Obama to take action on climate change. Our scientists and engineers are providing the science that decision makers, communities, and individuals need for developing strategies and taking action to protect public health and the environment. Read more.

 

And here’s some more EPA research that has been highlighted this week.

 

  • THE PATH(FINDER) FORWARD
    EPA’s innovation team is tapping the creativity of agency employees through Pathfinder Innovation Projects which provide space for bold ideas that have the potential for transformational scientific change. The program is an internal competition that provides seed funding and time for EPA Office of Research and Development scientists to pursue high-risk, high-reward research. Read more.
  • Reigning in the Rain with Satellite and Radar
    Accurate rain totals are the basis of watershed modeling for evaluating the water cycle. EPA scientists were involved in a study aimed at providing options for watershed modelers. With options of using land-based or radar data, scientists will be able to conduct more accurate watershed assessments, providing important information for keeping our watersheds healthy. Read more.
  • LIVE! from the Lake Guardian: Bringing science to the classroom
    A group of sixth graders from Charleston, IL took a virtual tour of the U.S. EPA vessel that was collecting samples in Lake Erie. Students and teachers watched as EPA researcher Beth Hinchey Malloy talked about living and working on a boat and showed them around. Eight classes across the Great Lakes region got a first-hand look at the research vessel this week and video chats with EPA scientists will continue throughout the school year. Read more.


If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Student contractor and writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a frequent contributor to “It All Starts with Science.”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Preparing to “Move:” EPA Research Supports Taking Action on Climate Change

By Andy Miller, Ph.D.

Large crowd of climate change marchers in New York CIty

Climate change march in New York City, September 21, 2014.

The issue of climate change is generating a lot of headlines again this week. The “People’s Climate March” in New York City, followed by the Climate Summit at the United Nations are sparking renewed interest in “taking action on climate change,” echoing the White House’s Climate Action Plan that President Obama released last summer. To lend our voices to the chorus, it’s also Climate Action Week here at EPA.

As a researcher working on climate change, I’m hopeful that such events, coupled with people’s own personal experiences, mean we are moving beyond the old “discussions” about climate change that have played out in the media by what seem to be a gang of professional arguers.

More and more people are experiencing higher temperatures, heavier downpours, rising sea levels, longer droughts, and bigger wildfires—all impacts that scientists have expected as the climate changes. Even though we can’t say for certain that any one of these is caused by climate change (see my previous post, What Does Climate Change Have to do with Weather…and Baseball?), taken together they provide increasingly strong evidence that the climate is changing and we need to prepare. And people are beginning to respond in meaningful ways to the reality of climate change.

So how do we know how to prepare? A good analogy to me is my recent move across the country. The basic preparation steps are similar: I looked for information about our new location, talked with experts who move people for a living, and made plans. When I started the actual process, I packed things one or two at a time, thinking about what I had to pack last and unpack first. It’s the same with preparing for climate change. We look for information and talk with experts, and then we make plans. We take actions one at a time, keeping in mind how those actions will affect other actions and don’t try to do everything at once.

Newspapers with articles and photographs of climate change march in New York City.

Taking action on climate change is big news.

EPA’s researchers are among the many people studying how climate change is affecting our environment to provide information to those who are making decisions. We study how rivers and coasts will change, and provide that information to towns, cities, states, and tribes so they can decide how they want to prepare for those changes and ensure their local communities will be resilient and healthy. EPA is doing research so we will continue to have healthy air as summers get hotter and drier. And we are working to develop the information needed by local water treatment facilities to deal with extreme rainfall events, so that our drinking water stays clean.

Knowledge, plans, and informed actions—these are at the heart of Climate Action Week. EPA science works behind the scenes to provide the knowledge people need to prepare for climate change and its impacts, so communities will have the best information possible to take action as they prepare their move into the new conditions brought on by our changing climate.

About the Author:Andy Miller is the Associate Director for Climate in EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program that conducts research to assess the impacts of a changing climate and develop the scientific information and tools to act on climate change.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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What Does Climate Change Have to do with Weather…and Baseball?

By Andy Miller

Nationals Park, Washington, DC

Nationals Park, Washington, DC

A question I often hear is whether a particular weather event or condition is caused by climate change, and my answer is almost always no.  You can’t say that a specific tornado, torrential downpour or 100 degree plus day is caused by climate change.

So if the answer is that the weird weather isn’t caused by climate change, then why are we so concerned?  Before we get to that, let’s remember what climate is.  Climate is the long-term average of the weather.  As has been said, “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”

Climate change means that the expected weather patterns are no longer what they used to be—that is, the long-term average weather is changing.  While the climate has changed in the past, now we are seeing changes that can only be explained by the rising level of greenhouse gases caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.

The question about whether climate change has “caused” a particular weather event is like asking whether a baseball team scored on a specific play because it has a better win-loss record than its opponent. The win-loss record doesn’t determine the outcome of an individual play, but all those individual plays determine the win-loss record.  Climate is like a team’s win-loss record—it doesn’t determine a specific weather event, but rather all the individual events determine the weather patterns that make up climate. And with climate change, it’s becoming clearer that the losses are starting to stack up against us.

If climate doesn’t determine a specific weather event, why do we often hear that climate change is affecting the weather?  What we need to remember is that this is just shorthand for what the science is really telling us.  What the science is really saying is, “higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are trapping greater amounts of solar energy, which is causing a change in how the atmosphere and oceans circulate, the amount of moisture in the air, and the amount of ice, all of which are causing changes to weather patterns across the globe.”  That’s a lot to say, so you can see why we simply talk about climate change as the cause of these impacts.

The “impacts of climate change” (which we can use now that we know what that’s really saying) are discussed in considerable detail in the new National Climate Assessment that will be published in the coming weeks.  The assessment explains what changes we are seeing now, and what we expect to see in the coming years.  It shows why we’re concerned about climate change and its impacts. And most importantly, it explains why we need to take action now on climate change.

We are only starting to see the impacts of climate change.  To turn to our sports analogy again, it’s like we’re at the start of a new season.  It’s often hard to see which team is going to be the best after only a few games.  But as the season progresses, it will be easy to see which teams have prepared well by bringing in the best players and training hard before the season starts.

Likewise, taking action on climate change now means that we will be much better prepared to meet the challenges we face in the coming years.  EPA is taking action now on climate change, and that includes EPA’s scientists and engineers.  They are teaming up to develop the scientific information and tools that will help the nation and the world prepare a winning game plan to respond to climate change.

A team that waits to begin training until after it falls behind in the standings has no chance of winning, and waiting to act on climate change until the impacts are even worse is also a losing strategy.

About the Author: Andy Miller is the Associate Director for Climate in EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program that conducts research to assess the impacts of a changing climate and develop the scientific information and tools to act on climate change.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.